Who Is KJ Apa?
Born in Auckland in 1997, KJ Apa found fame on the New Zealand soap opera Shortland Street in 2013. He hardly had any acting gigs under his belt before finding his way to Hollywood and being cast as Archie Andrews in The CW's hit teen drama Riverdale, an adaptation based on the famous characters from Archie Comics. Apa would go on to star in the films A Dog's Purpose and I Still Believe.
Early Life & Samoan Heritage
KJ Apa was born Keneti James Fitzgerald on June 17, 1997 in Auckland, New Zealand. Along with his two older sisters, Apa is part Samoan, thanks to his father, Keneti, who is of Samoan descent and a tribal chief (known as a Matai). His mother, Tessa, is a New Zealander of European descent.
Apa graduated from King's College, a high school in the Auckland area.
Movies and TV Roles
Apa's acting career took off almost immediately after he began pursuing it. In 2013, with virtually no acting experience, he earned the dark role of suicidal teen Kane Jenkins in New Zealand's longest-running primetime soap opera, Shortland Street, while still in high school.
Juggling being a student and a budding actor, Apa played Kane for two seasons but had to cut his storyline short when Hollywood came calling.
Having tried out for the role of Archie Andrews in Los Angeles, he nabbed the lead role on The CW's Riverdale — a darker look at the troubled teen lives of the Archie Comics characters. But winning the role wasn't without its obstacles.
While the other major characters of Riverdale were cast, it took producers of the series an arduous six months, wading through countless redheads throughout the Los Angeles area, to find their leading man, and they found him at the last minute.
Apa admitted his first audition was lackluster, his over 12-hour plane ride from New Zealand not helping his odds. However, after being called back for a second audition, the fledgling actor found his stride and allowed his musical talents to shine.
“K.J. read for us and he was immediately Archie Andrews,” series executive producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa told Vulture in 2017. “It was the right combination of earnestness and edge. And he played the guitar like a dream.”
Playing a rendition of Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on his electric guitar for casting directors, Apa was more in his element.
“There were a couple Southern people in the theater so I brang my guitar,” Apa recalled with a laugh. “I felt really confident after I played that song, because music comes really naturally to me and it’s always something I’ve been really passionate about.”
Apa's combination of boyish good looks and previous experience playing a dark character was what made him the perfect leading man for Riverdale. (His chiseled abs may have helped his chances, too, considering they were part of the pilot's plot.)
Along with characters Betty (Lili Reinhart), Veronica (Camila Mendes) and Jughead (Cole Sprouse), Apa's casting made the series complete. Premiering in 2017, Riverdale won positive reviews and became a hit for the network across multiple seasons.
'A Dog's Purpose,' 'I Still Believe'
Apa's fast fame as Archie led to additional opportunities on the big screen, including the comedy-drama A Dog's Purpose (2017), the crime drama The Hate You Give (2018) and the rom-com The Last Summer (2019). He then took on the starring role of Jeremy Camp in I Still Believe (2020), about the Christian singer-songwriter's romance with a young woman dying from ovarian cancer.
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